Campaign Encourages Schools to Comply with Federal Law By Making All Students Feel Welcome Regardless of Their Beliefs
August 20,2012. Charleston, S.C. – The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of South Carolina launched a campaign today to strengthen religious freedom in public schools. The “Religious Freedom Goes to School” campaign urges schools to protect both the right of free exercise for individuals of every faith and the right to remain free from governmental coercion and promotion of religion. It is aimed at addressing growing reports of unconstitutional violations of these fundamental rights in public schools across the state.
“It’s important that all students know that they’re going back to school to a place where they will be welcome no matter what they believe,” said Victoria Middleton, executive director of the ACLU of South Carolina. “We’ve received too many reports of religious freedom violations, especially complaints that many South Carolina schools continue to impose religion on students.”
The ACLU of South Carolina sent letters to all public schools in the state encouraging them to review their policies relating to religion and requesting information on these policies. In addition, an online survey is available for students, families or employees who wish to report possible religious freedom violations.
In the last two years alone, the ACLU of South Carolina has received complaints that include
- in-class daily prayer led by teachers;
- the distribution of Bibles to students;
- prayer and scriptural readings at graduation ceremonies, athletic events, awards ceremonies and other school activities;
- school-day assemblies featuring evangelizing and other religious content;
- coach-organized and coach-led prayer at football practices;
- opening prayers at school board meetings;
- school officials leading and participating in student religious clubs; and
- school involvement in the planning and promotion of religious baccalaureate services.
The campaign aims to uncover and correct these violations while also educating schools about their obligation to protect students’ rights to religious expression and exercise, as well as the rights of non-believers not to follow any faith.
“Religious freedom gives students of all faiths – or no faith – the right to hold and exercise their beliefs without discrimination or religious favoritism,” said Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. “We hope this campaign will help South Carolina public schools embrace the idea that decisions about students' religious practice and beliefs, if any, are best left to parents and their children, not public school officials.”
More information about the campaign, including the online survey, can be found here: www.aclu.org/religious-freedom-goes-school-south-carolina>